The New Law To Conserve And Protect Forests

Published: August 04, 2016 20:10 IST
The Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, introduced in the Parliament in 2015, has been passed in the Monsoon Session of 2016. The enabling provisions for releasing and making use of the funds to the tune of Rs 42,000 crores, which were lying unused with the Central Government for a long time, made this Bill a much-awaited Bill. The Bill establishes Compensatory Afforestation Funds at the National and the State levels. It makes provision for administration and regulation of money utilization from the National and the State Funds and paves the way for disbursing funds for the benefit of the people living in the remote parts of the country. The funds will be received from payments collected as compensation for loss of the forest ecosystem. In the recent past, use of forest lands for non-forest purposes, especially for industrial and infrastructural projects and its effects on the people living in those areas, had been a matter of debate. The CAF Bill is an important step in the direction of addressing those issues. In a way, the step taken to establish funds through this Bill is a statutory enforcement of the 'Polluter Pay Principle'.

This Bill, besides taking due care of the livelihood of the people dependent on forests, also exhibits the concern of the Government towards protection, management and promotion of ecosystem. It also provides the mechanism to ensure that the money is used only for the purposes of conservation, protection and revival of natural ecosystem - including forest, grasslands, and wetlands - with the active involvement of the local community. 

The CAF Bill assures to reduce negative impact on the environment due to industrialisation and development. India, being a Developing Nation, can no more turn a blind eye to the need of such activities. No doubt, compensatory afforestation and related activities are welcome steps in this direction. The serious concern for the environment is visible by the fact that the Bill makes a provision for compensatory afforestation, and wherever not feasible, it mandates to compensate it in monetary terms. 

India has the largest forest-dependent population in the world. Most of the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are dependent on forests for their livelihood. Forests are an integral part of their life. The Bill inter alia recognizes the 'environmental services' rendered by forest, i.e., carbon sequestration, flood moderation, erosion prevention, soil health enhancement, water and air.

Diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes, therefore, has serious repercussions on the communities, their livelihood, as also on their identity. It is an attempt to ensure that whenever the forests are converted for non-forest purposes, the environmental services are kept in mind while taking compensatory measures. Unarguably, a forest is not just an aggregate of trees, it is a living ecosystem that supports biodiversity and renders ecological services, which are difficult to quantify in economic terms. 

The CAMPA funds aim to work towards the conservation and protection of grasslands which, besides providing a huge range of ecosystem services, are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. They provide habitat for wildlife and livelihood for rural and tribal communities. Conservation of wetlands, as they recharge ground water, would stabilize the local climate and support livelihoods and biodiversity. It can also play a pivotal role in the protection of wildlife corridors and habitats. 

The funds, established by this crucial piece of legislation, would be used to identify, conserve and revive wetlands and grasslands, and compensate people on account of human-wildlife conflict, secure wildlife corridors, train rural youths for engagement on a seasonal basis to deal with forest fire and maintain the fire lines. Undoubtedly, this is the best way to strike a balance between the development and the ecosystem. The CAMPA would ensure the use of India's abundant natural resources for the growth of nation, without compromising the ecosystem, wildlife or livelihood of people living close to the nature. 

It is also important to note that Mr. Anil Madhav Dave, MoS Environment, Forest and Climate Change, while addressing the Parliament, assured that the provisions of the CAF Bill will neither dismiss nor supersede the system of Panchayati Raj  and its decisions. The role of Panchayats is paramount and the Bill will work in accordance with the procedures established by them. The hon. Minister further shared that, by virtue of being in a federal structure, one has to trust the State Governments and authorities that they discharge their duties effectively. The Government will also ensure that all the damage control measures are in place, if ever need arises. One must appreciate his statement that the Central Government has faith and trust in the State Governments that the funds will be distributed in a fair and justifiable manner, at the grass root level. After all, States are motivated to be green and beautiful and want to reduce carbon levels. The MoS Environment, Forest and Climate Change deserves congratulations for his assertion that the Government is fully committed to bring this development as soon as possible, and will revisit the rules and procedure after a year, if they are not found to be adequately helpful.

The Bill states that all expenditures are accountable to the National and State authorities. More importantly, the Bill is not against the forest conservation, it has its basis from the well-established principles of the environmental laws. Its provisions are in tandem with the Forest Conservation Act. 

The Bill provides the evaluation and compensation, which will help society to grow without compromising the environment. 

We need to view this Bill from the perspective of ecosystem services and the fact that conservation of forest and natural ecosystem is an integral part of development. It deserves appreciation for providing statutory recognition to the environmental services rendered by forests. Since time immemorial, we have been taking multiple benefits from forests without any recognition. For the first time, recognizing the contribution of forests, we are moving beyond the conventional ideas and policies related to forests to a more comprehensive plan for revival of ecosystem. The Government deserves commendations for its efforts. With the passage of time, this very important legislation would prove to be one of the major contributions of this Government in the direction of reviving and enhancing the ecosystem and, at the same time, uplifting the societies living in remote areas, which have so far been ignored.  

(Bhupender Yadav is BJP MP, Rajya Sabya.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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